The New York Times recently released an article chronicling the opioid epidemic in Philadelphia.

A lot of people in Philly (or other parts of the country, even) would read this article and disregard it, because it’s not near where they live. It’s not something they ever see. Perhaps they would be surprised to learn about what is happening in what the NYT calls “The Badlands.” Well, I can’t ignore it. You know why?

This article is about my neighborhood.

It chronicles the journey of the intersection just outside my back door. I drive by people who are in pain, who are battling every day the addiction that has been caused by a variety of factors, most of which we don’t ever think about. I mourn for my neighbors. I see how degrading addiction can be for people.

So what can we do about it?

Some would say that the answer lies in the government, and perhaps that’s part of the solution. As is mentioned in the article, they are highly considering opening a safe injection site in my neighborhood which would hopefully greatly reduce the amount of deaths due to opioid overdose. My coworker and I got trained to use Narcan, which is the brand name for Naloxone- an opioid reversal drug. Many people in my neighborhood are trained to use this life-saving drug. I have plenty of friends who work for organizations attempting to invite people out of homelessness and into sustainable living.

But what can YOU do about it?

Well, you can become more educated about the topic by listening to the voices of people who are on the ground working with people every day. You can work to reduce your own stigmas and biases by learning more about people who are struggling. You can support organizations who work with people every day.

I know that opioid addiction affects you, regardless of where you are in the country. Many of you probably are connected in some way with someone who has struggled with an addiction to painkillers or heroin.

I often wonder how Jesus would look at the people shown in this article. Would he fear my neighborhood, or would he be on my block, talking and hanging out with them? I think people addicted to opioids are often the equivalent of modern-day-lepers. People fear them. People avoid them. People are disgusted by them. People don’t see them as people, but rather, a product of poor choices and nothing more.

Jesus would and does see the dignity, life, and love of every single person- and not with a caveat. Not only if they become sober. Not only if they have stable housing. No. Jesus loves unconditionally, and I invite you to do the same. It’s really difficult a lot of the time. But it’s the way of Jesus.

Joe Tatum
CSM Philadelphia City Director